After scoring 38 goals for the Mac-Hi boys soccer team this fall, junior forward Oscar Flores has been named Oregon ’s Class 4A Player of the Year.
"I had to take Oscar out of some games," Mac-Hi coach Jose Garcia said. "He was scoring too many goals and having too much fun."
Flores powered Mac-Hi to last month’s state championship game, where the Pioneers fell 2-1 to La Salle .
Among the players Flores beat out for the top award was a La Salle midfielder who was being scouted to play for the Portland Timbers professional soccer team next year.
"It’s a really amazing award that I got," Flores said. "It said a lot about the program that we have. My cousin, Esteban Salazar, won the award several years ago, too."
Mac-Hi senior defenseman Lupito Salazar, Esteban’s younger brother and an honorable mention all-state player this fall, said Flores deserved the award.
"Oscar is one of the best players that I’ve ever played with besides my brother Esteban," Salazar said.
Garcia, who has guided Mac-Hi’s team for 18 years, notes that the Pioneer soccer tradition and the Flores family are intertwined.
"Oscar comes from a really good soccer family," Garcia said. "We also have a good reputation around the state for our soccer team. The Pioneers soccer team is now well known."
Flores was surprised to get the award because he received no state recognition a year ago and was voted only to the all-league second team.
The vast improvement in his game over one season shouldn’t be a surprise, however, due to how hard he prepares and plays.
"I played my heart out all year long and that won me the award, player of the year," Flores said.
In addition to playing for Mac-Hi, Flores practices year-around and plays with a local premier team, the U-17 Walla Walla Earthquakes.
Flores has a big fan in Whitman College men’s soccer coach Mike Washington, who mentored the Earthquakes for many years before switching his "second job" to the Wa-Hi boys team.
"Oscar is one of the best players for his age in the area," Washington said. "He has a lot of natural ability that other players don’t have. I think he will be able to play at the college level. I won’t mind having him play for me at Whitman."
Flores looks forward to sharpening his skills with the Earthquakes, who are now coached by one of Washington’s former Whitman players, standout goalkeeper Brett Axelrod.
No one thinks more highly of Flores, of course, than Garcia.
"He really means a lot to our soccer team. He is a hard worker who doesn’t give up, pushes himself and others," Garcia said. "He always fights for the ball."
In looking to the future, Garcia encourages Flores to work hard, on and off the field.
"He really needs to work hard and continue to get good grades," Garcia said. "No matter what happens to his soccer career, he needs to get a good education."
To improve his soccer game, Garcia said, Flores needs to work on his conditioning, which will "help his speed and explosiveness as he tries to take it to the next levels, college ball and maybe professionally."
Flores and some of his teammates have traveled to the Tri-Cities to work out for coaches at Columbia Basin College. He hopes to make the same trip to Walla Walla Community College within the next year.
Washington said Flores has the ability to play college ball at Whitman and other schools, but he needs to work on his strength to excel at the college level.
"It gets considerably more physical in college than high school," Washington said. "He could build up a little size in the weight room to help him out."
Flores said he has worked in the Whitman weight room with the Earthquakes and played some indoor soccer in the Whitman gym. He was impressed with both facilities.
Garcia said Portland University is another possibility for Flores. Garcia knows the coach there and thinks that Flores could play for the Pilots.
For now, Flores remains a normal high-school student with friends, family and support from the school, especially when it comes to the soccer team.
Flores said that he gets good grades, likes math and thought it was great when the Mac-Hi administrators shaved Mohawks into their hair, just like all of the Pioneer soccer players did during the recent playoffs.
Flores likes playing video games with friends, especially soccer and football on his X-Box 360 system.
Flores also hunts deer and elk with his dad. Oscar’s dad also has helped coach him from his earliest days in city and select soccer leagues.
Other inspirations in his life have been his cousin, Carlos Gomez, who played striker for the Wa-Hi Blue Devils several years ago.
At the moment, Flores is playing basketball at Mac-Hi. He also played baseball last spring, although he doesn’t plan to grab his glove and spikes this spring.
But within two or three months, Flores will be devoting his free time to his favorite sport: soccer.